Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Milton on Marriage

In our day and age we often hear about marriages falling apart, children who suffer from their parents divorce, and people living together outside of marriage, but this is not the way it was meant to be. Marriage is one of the sacred ordinances God established symbolizing the relationship between God and Man. In John Milton’s Paradise Lost he illustrates the sacredness and beauty of marriage while at the same time correctly portraying the roles of each partner. Milton has been called misogynistic and Paradise Lost a poem portraying gross suppression of women. In an ideal state Milton presents a biblical portrait of marriage.
After Adam finishes naming all the animals finding that there is no suitable companion for him pleads with God;
“Not so is Man
But in degree, the cause of his desire
By conversation with his like to help
Or solace his defects.” (Milton, 8. 415-19)

A husband and wife should be friends first and then lovers. In Genesis 2 it confirms, “but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.” (New American Standard Bible, Genesis. 2:20) When Eve is created, she begins to become infatuated with her own reflection. A voice tells her she was created for another and to be forever his.
Adam is called to be the ruler of all creation and to lead. Eve’s role of submissive love is commonly looked down upon by many with a secular worldview. Many times in the Bible it is stated that wives should be submissive to their husbands while at the same time the husband should be caring for the wife like Christ cares for the church. In paradise Eve accepts this recognizing that Adam is her guide and meaning of existence. Adam and Eve are called unequal many times, but not in a derogatory manner. It is commonly said that they simply have different role, and while that is true there is more. The differences between Adam and Eve are complementary like a harmony in music. A song can be played and sound beautiful, but a good harmony does not take away from the original composition. It enhances it and shows the full potential the piece has. The role of the wife is not to overthrow the husband’s leadership, but to support it and by doing this she will show submissiveness. When a wife is being gracious and accommodating, it makes the husband want to do more for her. The circle continues with the wife wanting to do more for the husband in return. After the fall God chastises Adam;
“Thy love, and not thy subjection, and her gifts
Were such as under government well seemed,
Unseemly to bear rule, which was thy part
And person hadst thou known thyself aright.” (10, 153-156)

His lack of leadership was part of the fall. If Adam had not allowed Eve to guide him he might not have fallen. In Eve’s submission before the fall Adam tells Raphael that though she is unequal to him she seems to him the most wise, virtuous, and discreet.
Before the fall the perfect and pure physical relationship of Adam and Eve is shown. They give of themselves in a sweet and pure way. They show innocence and love to one another through a conjugal relationship. After the fall they still enjoy the relationship, but lust has tainted their thoughts and actions. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul points out that it is good for men and women to be married and not live celibately inside of marriage. This part of marriage, so often distorted by our society, proves the sacredness of marriage. Many enter into sinful relationships where they live as though they were married without the commitment of actually being married, but these people do not understand that as they live in promiscuity they loose the fulfillment of the relationship; fulfillment that can only come in marriage. Satan invades the sacred bower in Paradise when he watches Adam and Eve make love. After the angels find him he is thrown out of the garden for invading the unadulterated place and trying to pervert the love that Adam and Eve share. Milton shows the beauty and purity when Adam and Eve first meet. Adam goes after her, not to take anything from her, but to win her over and become one with her. Later, when Adam wakes up, he marvels at Eve and her beauty. Procreation was one of the reasons Adam asked for a mate. He told God that because God was eternal He had no need of a companion, but because Adam was alone there was no way to continue his own race. The first commandment in Genesis 1 is “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth…” (NASB, Genesis 1:28) and after the flood Noah was told the same thing.
In Exodus 21 a man is told to give his wife all she needs, food, clothing, and marriage rights. Adam was called to be a provider for Eve and a steward of all that God had given. The first example of stewardship is found when God tells Adam to name the animals and tend the garden. Adam and Eve’s main job was to take care of the garden and animals. Providing is made more difficult after the fall when all the necessities of life are not on hand. Before Michael turns them out of the garden he tells them it will be difficult, but gives them hope with visions of the future. God tells Adam that it will be increasingly difficult to grow food as part of the curse. Part of stewardship is maintaining his own family and in this Adam failed. When Adam blames Eve after the fall, God tells him that Eve was not the one He put in charge. Adam was the one responsible for her actions. She was made for softness and sweetness, whereas Adam was made for strength and contemplation. Adam should have not allowed Eve to go her own way, for in doing this he was not maintaining stewardship over his own. In Proverbs 31 the woman’s role in stewardship is shown. She is to make good use of the time and resources provided to her by her husband. Eve was unwise to leave Adam in the Garden, but she was trying to use her time wisely, but it would have been better to stay together and follow Adam.
The most important thing for both in marriage was that they should worship God alone both on the inside and the outside. Adam and Eve praise God and thank Him in the morning and night. They inspire the plants and animals to praise God. Part of Adam’s leadership is found in worshipping God. He is to lead all of creation in praise to the Lord. After the Fall Eve commits idolatry as she worships the tree instead of God. She perceived the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to be the giver of all good things. Adam later lustfully praises Eve in an idolatrous manner. God tells us in the Bible many times to “worship the Lord you God and serve him only” (NASB, Luke 4:8) and that we shall have no other gods beside Him. At one point before the Fall Adam told Raphael that Eve though unequal is the most wise, virtuous, discreet, and best. He says she is better than wisdom her self. Raphael verbally chastises Adam reminding him that he (Adam) is Eve’s superior and not one to be worshiped. We are reminded in the Bible to “love the Lord you God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (NASB, Matt. 22:37).
Milton did not see marriage as a fool’s ordeal, but rather an ordinance set up by God from the beginning. The ideal marriage is a partnership where each person fills roles providing a perfect complement to the other. Like a well-written piece of music each should provide a complementary theme, not with each seeking to overthrow the other in dissonant cacophony. Adam was called to lead and provide while Eve was created to bring companionship and assist in stewardship. Both were created to worship God alone and serve him through submitting to one another in love. They were given physical intimacy as a gift and sealing gesture to a preordained commitment. Christ is described as the groom and His bride, the Church. He provides for His people, leads them, and is a constant companion even when they seek to walk away. The Church is to submit and carry out His plans. Milton knew this and wrote Paradise Lost with this in mind.

Cite Page
1. Milton, John. Paradise Lost. New York: W W Norton and Company, 2005.
2. New American Standard Bible. , Editor. Iowa Falls, IA: World Publishing Inc., 1960.
3. Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1993.

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